ET30- Brainstorming on Steroids W/Richard Haasnoot

How to Wow Your Customers Like Disney Does

ScreenShot011Whether you are looking for your first winning idea to start your entrepreneurial journey or you are working on expanding your current business, ideas are the base that everything else builds on. Therefore, having lots of ideas to pick from and coming up with really solid ones is going to be a huge asset.

This is where Richard is a pro- his proven systems come up with 12X more ideas that are 3-4 times more likely to succeed than what comes out of traditional brainstorming. And he tells us exactly how to do it in this episode!

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Twitter: @Innovate2Grow


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Matt: Alright! It is my pleasure today to welcome Mr. Richard Haasnoot from That’s and He is an expert in coming up with fantastic, innovative, mind-blowing new ideas for the business world. I’m very happy to have him here because I’m hoping that he can share some of his process with us. Richard, thank you for your time. Why don’t you just kinda jump in by telling us how you got started in doing what you’re doing and how you got your business to where it is?

Richard: Yeah. A little bit of background and context for all this because while I am a dive in the world of entrepreneurs for the last couple of decades, I actually started my career working for a couple of very big companies. I’ve been in Proctor and Gamble for 16 years and Ernest Gallows, Vice President of Marketing for 10 years. I need to give your listeners a little bit of a warning because of those 10 years. In those 10 years that I worked there, we had wine tastings virtually every night where I lost awful lot of brain cells. So, if I say something that you’re listeners go “What did he just say?” I’m gonna blame it on the wine tastings. Anyway, then I taught at the Arizona State University for 6 years teaching up Level of Marketing Innovation and Leadership. I published 6 books. That gets me the kind of today. I got in into the businesses that I am in. The first business that I had, I’ll just cover it briefly, innovate to grow experts, is a leading front-end innovation company. By front-end I mean it’s a part of the innovation process where you actually invent new products. We’ll probably get to this later in the conversation but the reason we get hired by major national and international companies to invent break through new products for them is we have 2 processes that are really pretty unique to us. One is the process that generates 12 times more ideas than brainstorming. So when a company hires us, more do I get a number of very high quality ideas. The second thing is we know from something called Merwin Technology about the very specifics about what it takes for my idea to be able to double its chances to success compared to the average idea. By the way, only 25% new products and services last 5 years. Conversely, 75% fails. So, doubling your chances from the average of 25% is a pretty big deal for most companies. So, that’s what innovative grow experts is but I want to kinda share with your listeners the way that I came about founding and starting Blue Sage Creative because while I talk about the specifics of that company, the principles are ones that think really help any one of your listeners that are in any kind of service business and even in some manufacturing business. So here’s the story. First, the company started very opportunistically. I have a friend who recently became, back then, a President and CEO of a national company. After he’d been there for a couple of months, I went over and we had dinner together. We’d been friends for a long time. Over the course of dinner, he was telling me the things that he like and dislike in the first 60 days in the job. One of them was he said to me “I got this graphic design group in the company and they just started doing great work. I’m probably gonna rid of them and go hire an external.” And that, I then found the strangest words. I look back on this and I go “Richard? What wine were you drinking?” I then found the following words coming out of my mouth. I said to him, “How about if I start a graphic design company?” He kinda looked at me weirdly as he should’ve. I said, “What if I could get –“ I gave him a designer’s name that both of us knew. He said “You could get him?” I said “I know I can get him.” He said, “Then, I would be very interested.” So I said “Give me 48hours to put together a specific proposal for what this company’s name is and everything that we will do.” He agreed. What happened in the next 48 hours was I first contacted the person who had been part of my I2GE company and who had been our creative director. I started working with Lory. We had some conversations and then I decided. I made a big decision that I wanted to: a) design the company specifically to meet client needs. Now, I’ve been a client of graphic design companies for decades in my careers in Proctor and Gamble and Gallows. There were certain things I liked about them but there are a lot of things I didn’t like about them. So, I’ll get to those points in a second. But I said the number 1 thing that I needed was really world class designers. I immediately thought for a couple of seconds. Where would I open up an office so I could get the best designers? Not getting an answer to that question, I said “Why open an office? I know designers in Portland. I know designers in New Jersey that I’ve worked with. There are independent designers in California or in Arizona. Why don’t I just start a virtual company and get absolutely world class designers that I’ve worked with for decades to be part of Blue Sage Creative. Within a couple of hours of placing phone calls and everything, I put together an absolutely stunning group of designers that want to be part of this company that we already named Blue Sage Creative. But I couldn’t have done that unless I decided that it was gonna be a virtual company. So, there’s a big principle here. If you want to get really robust capabilities, doing it by setting up a shop on the corner of 16th Main is probably gonna give you access to talent within 5, 10 or 15 miles depending on the link of commute to be able to get that sort of talent and people that want to work full-time. You get a lot of overhear, fixed overhead with it all. First principle is virtual company got me world class designers with portfolios that would blow anybody away. The second thing was the quality of service that you get in graphic design. Two things, Matt, have driven me crazy in working with creative groups over the years. One was will they ever agree to a time table? You can’t force creativity to happen. You just have to kinda see how long it takes. Hold. Give me a break. We’re designing a new package. I mean, come on? This is not a pretty man on the moon level of difficulty. the second thing was when I worked with outside graphic designer companies, I wouldn’t find out what it was gonna cost until I get the monthly invoice. Then, I’ll look at it and go “That cost what?” It was a wacko. So, I decided very quickly to make a 100% promise and that is that we would have, we would agree on a time table and we would deliver 100% of projects on time. we’ve done that in the over 3 years that we’ve been in business. We never missed a deadline. A second thing is I wanted it to be a 100% on budget. The way we created the budget is we would competitively bid a client project among our group of really talented designers, choose the low bid and then, commit to that cost that would become the budget that we would then agree to. Before work begin, our client had agreement to a budget and agreement to a timeline and our agreement that we would deliver both of those on time and on budget. That became just a competitive advantage against virtually any graphic design company other. We design with the client needs in mind. You put those 2 things together and we had Blue Sage Creative. So, 48 hours later I went back to my friend. Gave him a kind of description that I just gave you and he said “Let’s do it!” and I said, “When do you want to do it?” He said, “Well, I’m going to go talk to the group in 2 and a half weeks. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll tell them that we’re terminating our internal group.” And I said, “That’s great! Because we’re gonna offer whoever wants to from that group to have the opportunity to work with us should they choose to do that because we wanted some continuity and projects and client understanding and that sort of stuff.” We actually then ended up brining 2 of those people in as independent contractors also. When we took them over, matt, 60% of the projects were late. Thirty days later, 100% of the projects were on time. So, Blue Sage Creative was founded over dinner, founding a company that I have never thought of ever starting. But within 48 hours we put it together. Here are the principles that I would suggest for your listeners consideration. First, if you want to get truly great talent so that you’re company can look a lot more than just a one-person shop, go out and get a network of bedded, independent contractors in the field that you’re in and get them as a part of your team and all of the sudden the face of the company goes from being Richard , in this case, to 11 designers and project managers who got resumes that would kinda blow your socks off. What has happened in that? Well, since then, we only added national clients to our business. Now, if anybody’s wanting a graphic design company listening to this, for graphic design company to get national clients is almost – it’s kinda like the goal of goals because they’re big businesses. They tend to be more sophisticated. They have a predictable flow of major projects. They pay their bills on time. So, with the profile that I’ve just given you which is a virtual company that enabled us to get world class talent designing our services to meet specific clients’ needs, a hundred percent promise, we’ve been able to win bids against – like the last national client that hired us, they had 7 graphic design coming and pitch them to a committee of 7 people. We got to 7-0 vote in the favor of Blue Sage Creative. We just blew them all away with what I just described to you. So, those are the principles that I think if anybody out there wants to gain competitive advantage against companies who you are going to toe to toe with, this is a way of developing competitive advantages that can help you win the best of the best businesses.

Matt: That’s it! it’s really interesting and it’s very similar really to what we’ve done with ours. We offer fix prices which in a bookkeeping world is unusual. Most people want to do it hourly. Of course, the client hates that because you’ll never know how many hours it’s gonna take.

Richard: Exactly.

Matt: And, we always consistently deliver on our – “this is our turnaround time.” Then, we have it back to them by that promised time which is another thing that’s highly unusual. People don’t want to commit. If they do, a lot of times they miss it. so, just a few fundamental differences from the majority of the competition and it puts us heads and shoulders above and we ring virtually every time we go out to talk to a new client. They end up going with us.

Richard: Yeah. And I’m glad to hear that because here’s the thing that your listeners also need to understand. If you’re in business and you want to get new business, if you want to grow your business, here’s the critical dynamic that you need to be aware of and be successful with. If you want to grow your business, you’re going to have to convince a customer to switch from whatever company or product that they are currently using to yours. Now, what does it take to get a customer to switch? Well, the truth of the matter is each trick takes a dramatic difference – dramatically better benefits that you can deliver than the competition does. Why dramatically better? Why not just 20% or 30% better? Here’s why. To get their attention, you are going to get a few seconds. If you can say “I can cut your cost for X, Y and Z by 75%.” They are probably gonna go “You can what?” So, you got their attention. Now, you better be able to make that credible. Let’s be very clear about that. But to first get their attention, you need to have a dramatic difference. Second is, you need to make that dramatic difference highly credible to them and we know how to do that. When you do those sort of things, you can then be successful and with competitive advantages to getting somebody to switch. I’m gonna give you a very quick story that I used to demonstrate this one when talking in front of large groups. I ask that somebody in the group could tell me whether they are a loyal Crest or a loyal Colgate toothpaste user. I identify someone who’s either Crest or Colgate user. And I say, “You’re a Crest user. I’m gonna play the Colgate Brand Manager. I’m gonna try and get you to switch. What if I gave you a Colgate product that had 25% fresh mint taste than your Crest product? Would you switch?” They shrug their shoulders and shake their head immediately. It’s a no brainer. I said, “Okay. I’ve got another product. What if I could give you 50% more whitening power than you Crest product? Would you switch?” He paused a little bit longer and said “No, I wouldn’t.” Then, I’ll say “Well, okay. I’m gonna give you the best best new product we got. What if I can reduce the number of cavities by 75% if you use Colgate instead of Crest? Would you be interested in switching?” Now, this is not quantitative stuff, Matt. But I got to tell you I’ve done this a whole bunch of times and only about 2% of the time do I get anybody going “Yeah. I want to know more about that.” But the rest of the time they are going “No. I’m happy with my Crest.” See how difficult it is to get somebody to switch? Very difficult. So, if you don’t have something that’s dramatically better, life is gonna be a struggle. If you got competitors that do have areas where they are dramatically better than you, life is gonna be more than just a struggle. It’s gonna be a fight for survival.

Matt: No doubt. One of the things I constantly counsel anybody that asks me about starting a business is you really have to understand what makes you unique and why a customer would pick you out of their range of choices. There has to be a clear and compelling unique differentiator that is a value not to you or in your mind but a value to your customer or your potential customer. They have to care about why you’re better and different. Then, you have to deliver on that consistently and then, you have a chance of coming up on top. But, if you’re just the same as everyone else, forget it.

Richard: Yeah. I will just build on that just a little bit. One of the things that happens, Matt, when you have a dramatic advantage or you’re dramatically better at something that’s important to a potential customer than some most or all of your competition and when the potential buyer hears whatever this dramatic advantages that you have, a lot of people make the claim that “I can cut your cost by 75%” and you really can, but they kinda leave it there. Here’s the second part of the punch that your listeners need to realize. Potential buyers – and you just need to think of your own personal experience – are highly skeptical about advertising claims of all kinds. If you don’t put together a very powerful what we call reason to believe that you can deliver the promise benefit, if you don’t add credibility and strong credibility to help people believe how you can do that, then you’re going to be in a big trouble. If any of your listeners want to learn more about that, I have an Innovation Best Practices Podcast at, episodes 7 to 12 of the podcast talk about what I call the Science of Persuasion: The Three Elements that drive your long-term chances for success. Right behind benefits is the reason to believe that you can actually do what you just promised. So, make the big client if you got it, but then immediately back it up with providing them reasons to believe that you could actually do what you said to them. In one of those podcast, in fact, episode 8, I actually outline 5 different strategies how to construct a highly credible reason to believe.

Matt: Yeah. It all has to kinda hang together. You need all the pieces not just the one or two of them to make the whole story come together and for customers to really pay attention and decide to switch. Depending on what the product is, sometimes the switching cost is high. Sometimes its lower but there’s always some cost.

Richard: Always.

Matt: So, you got to overcome that and keep them from switching back too because a lot of times people are willing – they might give something a try but it’s easy to back slide until you really entrench yourself in a new habit or whatever the new product that you’re gonna use.

Richard: Yeah. That’s great advice.

Matt: So, let’s talk a little bit now about your innovation. I hear from a lot of people that “I really want to start my own thing but I just don’t know what to start.” And then I’ve heard you say that you can 12x the number of ideas over a typical brainstorming and you got ways of figuring out which ideas are gonna be the winners. Obviously, I’m sure that’s a huge topic with tons and tons of information. But, what’s some of the high-level ideas behind how you come up with ideas and how you figure out what are the good ones?

Richard: Sure. That’s a great question. We’ll go through this quickly because there is – as you very wisely point out – there is a lot behind this. First of all, I was just advising that if you make a big claim, you got to make it credible. Well, I’m making a claim that I’ve got a process that can generate at least 12 times more ideas than brainstorming. I kinda backed that up, don’t you think? By giving some reasons to believe [inaudible 0:24:35.7] so to speak. Well, here’s the back up. This process, which I’ll give you an overview in a minute, has been tested twice at Oklahoma State University in Test and Control Cells of brainstorming vs. what I call quantum idea generation. In both times, the quantum idea generation process, which I’ll go through in a moment, generated 12 times more ideas than brainstorming. That was version 1.0 which was developed by a good friend of mine by Liam Doughall. My group has absolutely taken it to version 2.0 and we haven’t done the Oklahoma City or any other test but we truly believe it’s probably around 20x but I stick with the 12x. what I’m talking about is very real. Its why companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire my team to generate ideas for them. So, how do you generate 12 times more ideas than brainstorming? Well again, I’ve got podcast on this in fact it’s so important that its – really episode 1 through 6 of the Innovation Best Practices Podcast. these are 4 things that you need to do if you are interested in generation 12 times more ideas. First, you need to start with what does success look like. You can’t go explore ideas in all360 degrees compass. You must have a kernel of an idea. “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if we could do whatever?” or “I’d love to be able to do something like this.” Create a vision of what success looks like for you because idea generation requires some degree of focus. Okay? Now that you’ve figured out roughly what you’d like to be able to do, then, how do you start generating ideas about how you would do that? Well, there are 4 things that you need to do. First, if you rely only on yourself or close friends of yours to generate ideas, are you gonna get ideas if you invite them over for a night and you get a flip charge, buy some beer and pizza? Are you gonna get ideas? Yeah, you’ll get ideas. Are you gonna get big ideas? No. you’re not gonna get big ideas. What you need is high-powered diversity. What do I mean here? Well, I’m talking about people who are skilled in the area that you’re interested in exploring but have different skills than you do. I’m talking about people who are creative thinkers in a variety of different ways. I’m talking about who work in the field that maybe you’re interested in going into? Bringing together – and diversity varies by course or project – but bringing together a group of core people around you and then supplementing that with a diverse group of people from a variety of field, some that you may know, some that you don’t know and bringing them all together at one time into a creative session. So, step one is get the right people in the room if you want to get the big ideas. Second thing is stimulus. You need to bring into the creative process very high powered stimulus. In episode 3 of Innovation Best Practices Podcast, I go into a lot of details in this but this is usually PowerPoint presentations. It can be visuals about how other people around the world are doing something that like what you’re interested in doing. It can be major demographic trends that are going on. It can be major encrypts from pieces of consumer research. The stimulus can come from a wide array of sources but sufficed to stay that you need to bring in the stimulus of what other people are doing in and around what you’re doing so that you can get – it’ll start the idea generation flow going. I’ll give you a very quick example of what I was teaching in Arizona State University. I ask the students to take a pad out. I ask them to write down on that pad all the places they like to go on vacation through all lines onto the last one and then go on the back of them where I’d lay out hundreds and hundreds of travel brochures. I ask them to write down any of the places they would like to go on vacation below the line I just drew. They come back to me. we add them all up and I did that for 6 years, 2 semesters a year, so 12 times. Every time we at least tripled the number of ideas of where people wanted to go on vacation with simple stimulus like travel brochures. Okay? So, bring stimulus. You got your diverse group. Now, bring in some powerful stimulus to get the thinking processes going. The fourth thing is that most people have heard that they are left and right brain people so they may have some familiarity with that. They may have some concerns about their own personal creativity. They might think that you’re born creative or something like that. That’s a myth. All people can be equally creative. Having said that, they go about generating ideas in very different ways. What you want to know is when you get your diverse group of people together is “Do I have left brain people in this room? Or right brain people?” Why is this important to know? Well, if you want to get the most ideas out of them, you’re going to need to use dramatically different idea generating exercises if you got a right brain group vs. a left brain group. Dramatically different. Again, people can go into Episode 4 of the Innovation Best Practices to learn more about. You can just search left and right brain evaluation on Google and you’ll get a bunch of free assessment tools that you can have the people in your session take so you can know very easily are these left brain or right brain in the room. The last thing,
Matt, of the 4 factors is – and it’s very important, especially important in the corporate work that we do – you need to totally eliminate fear from people in the room. Where does this fear come from? Well, fear can come from people not wanting to be perceived as stupid by blurting out an idea. “Oh, God! They’ll think I’m crazy if I blurt that out.” Boy, I can’t have that thought process going on in the room. The second source of fear especially when we do a company and there’s various levels of management in the room is somebody wanting to say something that they think their boss would think not too well of them which is another form of fear. Let me tell you why you need to eliminate fear and have only fun in the room. I’ve been doing this for a lot of years and we ran creative sessions and whenever a big idea comes out of a small group of 4 people – one of the small groups of 4 people that we have in our creative sessions – I’ll go up to that group and say “How did you guys come up with that idea?” And Matt, here’s what I hear 9 out of 10 times. Suzzy blurted out this absolutely wild and wacky idea. And then Joseph, “Oh! And we could – “, and then mike said, “Oh! And what about this – ?” And then John said, “What if we put it all together?” Well, if we didn’t get the blurting out of the wild and wacky idea, we would never have gotten to the big idea. You need to create a place where people have no fear to blurt out those wild and wacky crazy ideas that other people can build on because many of them have the possibility of becoming big ideas. So, diversity, stimulus, left and right brain, fun and not fear, you put all those together, with a modest amount of skill, you’re gonna get a tremendous increase in the number of ideas than you would vs. brain storming.

Matt: Wow! That sounds like a very formulaic process which is good because that means its repeatable and you can get expect to get results out of it. I was thinking there was gonna be something a little more hands waving in the air, a little more mystical but it sounds like a very formulaic check this box “I did this. I did that.” And if you follow the steps, you’re gonna see results which is awesome. I mean, that’s exactly the kind of process that anybody can follow even if they don’t feel like they have a creative bone in their body.

Richard: Exactly right. We have done this for Potato Chips – off shore drawing, financial services, the picky cruiser was invented using a process like this and about every kind of business you could possibly imagine. So, you’re exactly right. This is very repeatable. Now, at the level of the company hired us to do it, it helps if you have somebody that has a fair amount of experience in managing this process because it really does all need to work together. All these 4 components have to work seamlessly together. And there’s a certain amount of skill and experience that helps with them especially at higher levels where more is at stake. But, the people – your listeners – if you’re in small business and you want more ideas for a super bowl party, you can use this. It’s going to work. Diversity, stimulus, left and right brain and make sure that you’re gonna have fun and eliminate fear.

Matt: The only question I have on the process and then we can wrap it up because I know it has been a ton of information. It’s almost overload. But on the front end in setting a goal, obviously, that’s a critical part, the question that came to my mind as you were talking through the steps is how specific can you get or how lose till you have to leave in order to generate good ideas? If I said “Well, I know I want to do something with an online business. I want it to be recurring revenue. I want it to be subscription base.” How many things can you throw in before you stifle the process or is that not really a problem?

Richard: It’s a good question. You don’t want to try and invent an idea in your vision of success because then you get locked in on your idea. You’re not gonna get the chance to really make it better. Let me give you an example. If a company’s vision for success, let’s say somebody who’s in the accounting, bookkeeping business vision of success. I want to provide my clients the highest level and most innovative customer service of any competitor in the state of California. Okay. Well, that’s kinda defined. You’re in this particular business. You’re in business A and the component of this business that you want to focus on is what dimensions of customer service, including new dimensions of customer service that you’re going to invent. Do you wanted them go have a quantum idea generating session for? That kinda vision that I just articulated for you and here’s the thing for your listeners to kinda keep in mind, too. Jim Collins wrote an absolutely great book called Good Degree. One of the things that made companies have the ability to go from good grade is they had what – Collins named it. what do you call this? I don’t know. But, a hedgehog concept. What is a hedgehog concept? Well, a hedgehog concept was companies that went from good degree to determine how they were going to be better at something that was important to their customers than any other company in the world they were competing with. That makes for a great company. Maybe you just want to California. Maybe you want to be Carlsbad. I don’t know. But what you want to do here is set the bar high and then go get the ideas that can deliver.

Matt: Got it! well, that makes a lot of sense. You got to define it to an extent but you don’t want to kill all the possible options by defining it too severely. That makes sense. I guess, I’m sure people can play with it a little bit to find the right mix of restriction vs. non specificity.

Richard: Restrictions are gonna hurt you far more than no restrictions. Here’s why. If you have ran a creative session, you’re going to get ideas that sort of fit in your box. But, you’re also gonna get ideas that truly fall outside the box. So, why not go for the mix of both as oppose to limiting it in the beginning? You can always make choices later but get the full range of ideas out there. Be more open than close and you would get ideas that will potentially have the ability to that “wow” level of dramatic difference.

Matt: Good point! And you may end up deciding to go on a direction completely different than what you originally thought anyway if the idea that comes out of that strikes you as the way to go, and even it wasn’t something that was originally on your radar.

Richard: Yeah. There’s actually a recent podcast that I just produced about Chili’s – an interview with [inaudible 0:38:09.5] who loved the session. She got through day 1 of the session and the head of Chili’s said “I think we’re trying to develop ideas for the wrong thing.” You know, just what you love with a client experience when you’re running something like that. By the way, he was right. So, Carrie immediately had to turn it around and go develop the ideas along the way. But sometimes, you do get it in the process. You go “Oh! No, we’re not going in the right direction.” And boy, there’s a big thing in the field of innovation. If you’re going to fail, fail early and the idea generation stage is a great place to have an epiphany that says “Oh! We gotta be going this direction.”

Matt: Right. That’s the fastest and cheapest place to fail before you even started – when you are still at the idea stage.

Richard: Exactly.

Matt: Well, I really appreciate your time. A ton of good information there. I got a lot of notes here scribbled down and ideas just from the idea generation conversation. So, I appreciate it. for people who are interest in more, your websites, your podcasts, where is the best place for people to find you?

Richard: Yeah. I would just suggest people go to there’s a list of all in there. If your listeners want to contact me directly, I love interacting with folks. They can just email me at

Matt: That sounds awesome! Again, I really appreciate your time. Tons of good information here. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Richard: My pleasure!

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